Even Red Sox Undervalued Mookie Betts, And How Bowling Shaped His Swing

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As it turns out, not even the Boston Red Sox knew what they were getting in Mookie Betts.

Sure, when the Red Sox drafted the then-middle infielder with the 172nd overall pick in the fifth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft, they expected Betts to develop into a very good big leaguer. But as Betts continues what ultimately could be an MVP season, it seems he’s surpassing even the ballclub’s expectations.

“I look back on our reports a lot, and it’s so funny because I think the only thing we didn’t have a great feel for — which I think everybody in baseball, there’s no way anybody can say that, based on Mookie Betts as a high school player, that anyone thought he was going to hit for this much power,” Amiel Sawdaye, the Red Sox’s vice president of amateur and international scouting, said last month on The Ringer’s MLB podcast.

“I look back on our reports, and everybody had ‘excellent athlete, excellent instinct,’ and when I say excellent, you don’t typically see a lot of those, especially with the instinct. So you have a guy who’s an excellent athlete with excellent instinct and is a plus hitter, plus defender — everyone thought he’d be an infielder for the most part — a base stealer, a guy who’s going to hit for a little bit of power, 45, 50-ish (out of 80 on the baseball scouting scale).

“So a really good everyday player, possible All-Star and not MVP candidate year in and year out. I think what separated him was the power. I think everybody thought he was going to be a solid to above-average major league player. And he’s turned to be one of the top three to five players in the league. And the separator for me is the power.”

It’s true that Betts’ power surge has pushed him to the top echelon of big league players. His 31 home runs are second on the Red Sox only to David Ortiz, and his .903 OPS is within the top 20 in all of baseball.

Where did that power come from, though? Well, Betts’ lifelong hobby of bowling might be a big factor for the outfielder’s lightning-quick hands, which generate most of his power, despite his relatively modest frame.

“I think the thing that maybe we didn’t give him enough for credit for, which looking back on it now makes sense, is this guy, we (know) so much about his bowling and how does (the bowling) translate?” Sawdaye remarked on podcast. “We knew he was an unbelievable bowler. How does he translate it to being a good hitter?

“The one thing we spent a lot of time on is body control. You go up and you gotta bowl. … It’s hard to repeat your bowling stroke, and obviously this guy’s muscle memory allows him to repeat his bowling stroke day in and day out because he’s bowling perfect games and he’s bowling these ridiculous numbers at 16 years old. So we talked a little bit about that, and I think that does actually play into his swing.

“The thing we didn’t think about is, he started bowling at 3 or 4 years old. Think about how much hand strength he might have gained. He’s not a big guy, so you don’t think of a guy with really strong hands. To me, strong hands really translate into power so much. If you bowl one night, and the next morning, you have that awkward feeling in your hands and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t believe my hands hurt.’ … And I think looking back on it, you don’t even thinking about it.

“His hand strength, I guarantee you, he probably has some of the strongest hands in the draft from doing that for so many years, and growing up as a kid and gripping the bowling ball. … It probably helped account for some of the ability, not only with the bat speed but the bat control and to barrel up the baseball.”

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Thumbnail photo via Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports Images

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